By Isma’il Auta
Over the weekend, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, set a bar for leaders and aspiring leaders in the country with what he listed as the premium characteristics of quality leadership that inspire hope and unpack failure. The minister stopped short of asking Nigerians to use the standard for a thorough scrutiny of the governance recruitment process in 2023 general election.
The Institute of Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Corporate Governance of Nigeria (INSLEC), a leading global professional body of leaders and entrepreneurs in corporate governance, had converged on Abuja to induct the minister as a distinguished honorary fellow of the institute. The event took place at the Conference Room of the honourable minister and somehow provided an opportunity for a deep reflection on the nation’s leadership.
Among the leaders of INSLEC who graced the occasion were top academics and politicians, including Professor Gabriel Emecheta, who is the leader and chairman of the body, Professor Ayandiji Aina, the chairman of the planning and resource committee and an All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwart, and O’tega Emerhor, among others. Besides the permanent secretary of the ministry, Peter Tarfa, and other management staff, members of the management team of the agencies under the ministry were also in attendance.
President of the Institute, Emecheta, set the tone when, in his presentation, he summed up the minister-recipient as a “bridge-builder whose pristine and differentiated worth as leader and mentor” informed the institute’s decision to seek him out for induction. He said Ngige, who had served with merit in other tiers and branches of government as governor, senator and now minister, would bring to the institute as much honour as the induction would confer on him. Describing leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance as the three major legs that sustain the growth and viability of the global economy, Emecheta said the focus of the institute was at the base of the current global industrial revolution. Practitioners under the institute, he argued, were best equipped for poverty eradication through quality leadership. He added that, as governor of Anambra State, Ngige set a pattern of distinction in every material metric.
Reflecting on the underlining motif of the institute and the day’s investiture, Ngige said leadership was critical for the survival of any nation and the relevance of the institute as anchored on its tripodal theme could not be underrated.
“By definition of each of the tripod, one can discern the importance of leadership in realising the two other components of entrepreneurship and corporate governance,” he said.
Further dissecting the theme, he said the number one quality of a good leader was vision: “A good leader must be visionary. He must see things others cannot see. In fact, he is the third eye for the people. He is futuristic and thinks and projects ahead of the people. When he visions, he must also crystalize the vision, bringing it out for implementation.”
However, according to the minister, being a good leader goes beyond being visionary to being adept in implementation for the benefit of the people.
“He must be an implementation person and cannot achieve this if he is not knowledgeable because, after the vison, he must be able to crystalize them, meaning that he must be a generalist who is versatile in so many areas. If you like, ‘a jack of all trades and master of all.’ He must not score distinction in all, but be able to score it in many,” he said.
Ngige added that every good leader must be courageous to implement hard decisions: “If he doesn’t implement courageously, some of the visons will die or will not be implemented for the benefit of the people. Similarly, he must be compassionate, knowing when to temper justice with mercy. To show a human part of him, exude the milk of human kindness.”
Finally, he enthused that a good leader must be pro-people so as to bend backwards to ease their burden.
Extrapolating this leadership thesis, Ngige acknowledged that all was not well with Nigeria, but exonerated the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, while blaming the lack of vision on the part of preceding administrations. Said he, “I know that our country is passing through a very rough time now because we have not planned well.”
He inferred that previous administrations, knowing that Nigeria was dependent on oil, did not plan for diversification, hence, when disruptions arising from insecurity and drop in oil prices came, the country was badly hit.
“Later on, COVID-19 forced us to go into a second recession and we are not yet out of the woods,” he reasoned.
He emphasized it was Buhari’s foresight in diversification of the economy, especially into agriculture, that saved Nigeria from the ugly Venezuelan experience.
However, some observers are beginning to ask if Ngige, who has been under pressure to take a shot at the presidency in 2023, indeed, has promised to make his decision known in April, during the Easter holidays, was not tacitly opening a window to his yet to be declared aspiration. However one looks at it, the qualities Ngige listed form the critical minimum for any successful leader as time has proved.
Ngige should know better, having demonstrated quintessential stewardship as Anambra State governor about two decades ago. It was his vision and the ability to courageously implement them that untethered the state from the backwaters where it stagnated for decades. It was this exceptional vison that broke the jinx of retardation and the vicious hands of godfathers that held the state by the jugular. Ngige made a massive sacrifice that can only be paid by a leader whose resolve is firmly cast in the province of the people. Not even when some senior leaders of his party had advised him to dial back and save his seat in the face of a furious presidency, desensitized to freedom. Really, against the run of trend, Ngige turned down advice from these concerned Nigerians and rather stuck to his decision to yield neither to the godfathers nor their puppeteers, pulling the string from Aso Rock Villa.
Ngige made reference to this in a published birthday tribute to the former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Sen. Barnabas Gemade, at his 70th birthday on September 6, 2018.
“But there was one particular advice you gave me that I did not take and you know which. Even though turning down that advice was to cost my seat as governor, up till today, just as I told you then, I have no regrets doing it. Had I taken your advice, maybe, I would have continued as governor, but Ndi Anambra would have lost all round,” Ngige noted in that missive.
Ngige lost the seat but scored massive victory. Anambra gained all! Within 34 months in the trenches, Ngige built massive infrastructures that 16 years of his predecessors could neither match nor vitiate. The over 500km of roads across the state will never fade, but it at times masks his strides in other areas such as the restoration of decadent infrastructures in the state’s healthcare system. It did not start in his governorship anyway. Long before then, as deputy director, hospital services, in the Federal Ministry of Health, Ngige pressed down all odds, infrastructural and human, defying consultants and senior hospital management to move the UNTH Enugu to its permanent site at Ituku Ozalla.
Fast-forward to Anambra again. The return of schools to the mission could have perhaps waited for more decades but for Ngige’s farsightedness and courage. After all, everyone appeared to have given up since the government of Jim Nwobodo returned St. Monica, Ogbunike, and St. Charles, Onitsha, to the Anglicans and Catholics in 1982. Over 20 years later, Ngige laid the foundation and gathered the building blocks, whose results speak in academic excellence the state reaps today. He combined vison and political will, resisting the labour agitators who thought teachers would suffer in the arrangement and other naysayers to institute an operable model that opened the doors to academic distinction. That was in September 2005.
Rehashing how Ngige recreated Anambra State is not moot here but most interesting is that he achieved this in less than a tenure of office and in the most difficult circumstances. When the guided tribunal and appeal upended his office, he left a gargantuan N13.8 billion for the Peter Obi administration but he denied it and constituted the Justice Ononiba Commission to probe Ngige. After months of sitting, the commission turned in its verdict: that Chris Nwabueze Ngige served Anambra selflessly, meritoriously and should be commended.
•Auta, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja